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Apple CEO Tim Cook 'not confident' US will pass smart regulation for tech

During a panel discussion Tuesday, the iPhone maker's CEO continues to push privacy, encryption and environmental issues.

Tim Cook has been taking a tougher stand on social issues since becoming Apple's CEO eight years ago.

James Martin/CNET

Lawmakers and regulators in Washington may be itching to increase oversight of the tech industry, but Tim Cook isn't convinced they'll get it right.

Speaking at the Time 100 Summit in New York on Tuesday, Apple's CEO said he's "not confident" the US will write smart regulations aimed at the tech industry. He's not alone, particularly after a series of hearings on Capitol Hill exposed lawmaker's embarrassing lack of knowledge about how the tech industry works.

Cook added that the efforts of European lawmakers to strengthen privacy rules, such as through last year's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), were "a step in the right direction." 

Something, he said, needs to be done.

"I think there are some serious issues with tech," Cook said. "We all have to be intellectually honest and we have to admit that what we're doing isn't working. And that technology needs to be regulated."

This isn't the first time Cook has pushed on privacy issues, nor the first time he's called for new regulations while criticizing his peers in the industry. Apple has even turned this issue into mass marketing, putting up billboards and releasing television commercials to dramatize what it says is a commitment to privacy that some other big tech companies don't share.

Cook has also been speaking out on social issues, often disagreeing publicly with President Donald Trump. Cook says it isn't about politics, despite how polarizing it might be to some people.

"I try not to get wrapped up in a pretzel about who we upset, because at the end of the day -- not in the thick of the moment, but at the end of the day -- we'll be judged more by, 'Did we stand up for what we believed in?'" Cook said during his roughly 20-minute chat. "I think still, people appreciate that, even when they do disagree."

Cook also touched on Apple's 2016 legal battle with the FBI, during which government lawyers asked a court to force Apple to help it hack into a suspected terrorist's iPhone (the FBI eventually backed down when it found a new way to hack the phone).

"I wish that case would have gone to court, to be honest," Cook said. "I think this was not the government's finest hour. I have personally never seen the government apparatus move against a company, like it did here, in a very dishonest manner."